More than 300 people are suffering from poisoning in the east Siberian city of Irkutsk caused by "holy water" taken from wells during religious ceremonies of Epiphany, Russia's consumer regulator said on Thursday.
Believers take water from churches on January 19, when the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the baptism of Christ. Water is believed to become holy on Epiphany and have healing properties, and some people store the water sanctified in churches for long periods.
"From January 22 through January 27, 307 instances of diarrheal diseases were registered in the Irkutsk Region, including 167 children under 14," Rospotrebnadzor said in a press release.
The watchdog said 146 people, including 66 under-14s, remain hospitalized.
Rospotrebnadzor said tests showed that water from the city's Archangel Michael Church corresponded to sanitary norms, but samples taken from two nearby wells and a swampy lake revealed the concentration of chlorides and nitrates was two times above the norm.
Church officials denied the poisoning cases were due to sanctified water.
The secretary of the Irkutsk diocese, Father Maximilian, said an ice hole was made in the lake for bathing, in line with an old Russian tradition, not for drinking, according to reports on Babr.ru and other Russian news web sites. He said water from the lake could have caused the poisoning.
MOSCOW, January 28 (RIA Novosti)